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Review: the impressive United Polaris lounge in San Francisco

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This is our review of United’s Polaris business class lounge in San Francisco Airport.

Polaris is United’s term for its international long haul business class cabins, introduced in 2016 when they started phasing out their old business class and first class cabins. At the same time, United also introduced a new Polaris lounge concept as their top lounges in key hubs.

There are now six Polaris lounges in Chicago, Houston, LA, Newark, San Francisco and Washington Dulles. Back in 2016 there were also plans to turn the United Club lounge at Heathrow (review here) into a Polaris lounge, although that project appears to be dead.

United’s Polaris lounges received a lot of praise when they launched so I was looking forward to experiencing one in person. At 2,600 square metres, San Francisco is the largest of the lot.

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

This visit was part of a review trip organised for HfP by United Airlines. Other articles in the series include (with two more to come):

Who can use the Polaris lounge in San Francisco?

As United’s top lounge offering, the Polaris lounge comes with fairly restrictive eligibility requirements.

Fundamentally, you need to be flying on an actual long-haul business class ticket. You can’t buy your way in and no credit card confers access.

You can use the Polaris lounge in San Francisco if you hold one of the following:

  • A same-day long haul business class ticket on a Star Alliance airline
  • Polaris business class passengers

If you’re flying in Polaris, you can also use the lounge on arrival or when connecting onto another flight, even if your next flight is not in Polaris.

Where is the San Francisco Polaris lounge?

United’s international flights depart from Concourse G at San Francisco Airport, although there are a number of airside connections that let you walk between the various terminals and concourses after clearing security.

The Polaris lounge is very easy to find. Simply turn right when you exit security and you will see it immediately:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

The lounge is open from 6:30am until 10:30pm.

Inside the United Polaris lounge in San Francisco

The Polaris lounge is spread across two floors, with a bank of escalators and lifts in between.

The lower floor (at terminal level) is the smaller of the two and features a room filled with armchairs and individual booths:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

In the centre is a small snack and refreshment bar with self-serve soft drinks:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

At the far end you’ll find the shower suites. The shower reception looks like a high-end spa, with backlit quartz desk:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

The showers are equally impressive:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

Shower products are by Sunday Riley, which also supply United’s amenity kits:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

Various other items were also available on request, including a curling iron, hair straightener, shower cap, vanity kit, dental kit, deodorant and a duvet (!). You can get your clothes steamed whilst you shower.

The upper floor is much more spacious. Head up these escalators:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

When you reach the top you have a choice: left or right. Turn left and you’ll find the quietest part of the lounge, as it’s furthest from all the main amenities (showers, bar, food) that most people are after.

First up is a staffed desk for any travel related or ticketing queries. This was only staffed by one person, who at one point seemed to disappear entirely.

Further on you’ll find much more lounge seating:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

Head right to the back and you find the space turns a corner (now directly over the shower suites on the floor below) which is almost entirely empty. It looks like this:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

At the very end you’ll find another snack bar with soft drinks, infused water and a row of snacks in jars:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco


Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

Let’s return to the top of the escalators and turn right to explore the rest of the lounge. This is the busiest zone as it is adjacent to the bar and buffet. First up is a range of seating, similar in style to downstairs:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

I particularly liked these round, divided seat pods:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

There are more private booths as well, if you feel like being cocooned by three walls:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

Then you have the bar with free-to-order drinks. As it was still early I had a mimosa which was made with prosecco but I’m almost certain champagne is also available, as are made-to-order cocktails.

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

The dining room in the United Polaris lounge

After the bar you have some more seating as well as the buffet before, finally, the dining room:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

There are seats for around just over thirty people. It is a lovely space, with windows on two aspects. It seemed like the air conditioning was slightly broken as there were two noisy temporary air conditioning units in the corner.

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

I was travelling alone and immediately got a table, although I overheard a larger group asked to join the waiting list for one of the tables of four or six. The a la carte menu has two halves: one for breakfast and one for lunch / dinner.

Breakfast is served until 11am, although I’m not sure if you can also pick from the lunch menu before then.

Options include a number of ‘light bites’ such as breakfast grits, a chia seed pudding, acai smoothie and a selection of bakery items.

If you’re looking for something a bit more substantial, then you can choose from savoury pork belly pancakes, omelettes your way, a Bay breakfast sandwich or zeppole (Italian doughnuts).

I started with the Bay breakfast sandwich which comes with Dungeness crab, poached egg, cheddar, tomato and aioli on sourdough toast:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

This was very tasty, although it could have done with a slightly more generous portion of crab – there isn’t a huge amount.

As the portion wasn’t huge, I decided to have another and opted for the savoury pork belly pancake with fried egg, sesame, okonomiyaki sauce and picked ginger. This is a Japanese-style pancake with various vegetables cooked in the batter:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

This was delicious, with the pork belly hiding under the egg, although it did take a while to appear.

In both cases the portions were fairly small so I recommend ordering a couple. I was expecting massive American-sized portions which is why I initially only opted for one dish, despite my lovely waiter Kevin saying I should just get both!

Kevin, by the way, was excellent: he had a very calming manner and was friendly without being intrusive.

Wondering what’s on the lunch and dinner menu? Small plates include:

  • Tomato basil bisque
  • Watermelon, cucumber and feta salad
  • Eggplant caponata
  • Laura Chenel goat cheese plate

Whilst, for mains, you have:

  • Pan-seared chicken with lemon basil risotto
  • Pan-seared pacific salmon with pea puree and roasted heirlooom tomatoes
  • Cacio e pepe
  • Polaris signature burger

Buffet food

Of course, if you don’t have time for the dining room – and the staff will refuse to serve you if your flight is already boarding, as I saw – then there is also a small buffet available.

This is less substantial than you would expect for a lounge of this calibre due to the dining room, but it did have bacon, sausages and sausage patties:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

…. as well as French toast, potatoes and egg white and egg yolk dishes:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

Some cold cuts, yoghurt and fruit was also out:

Review: the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco

For some reason, the lights under the buffet hoods were not on and so it all looked a bit dingy. If you have time for the dining room then I would definitely go there first, as you will get a much better selection of food.


Overall, the Polaris lounge in San Francisco is an exceptionally good facility and undoubtedly one of the highlights of my Polaris experience.

In a perfect world, all airlines would have lounges of this calibre in their home airports. Alas, we know that is not the case which makes this a good reason to choose United over other airlines from San Francisco.

A la carte dining in a business class lounge is not something you see every day, although given the size of the dining room it is not something most guests can enjoy. The buffet is less impressive, although it is hard to impress with breakfast – it may be better after midday.

Although it’s now five years old, the lounge is in very good nick and the overall design is stylish, with cool blue and grey tones. There is ample natural light – the long, thin layout of the lounge means you are never more than five metres from a window – and there are statement chandeliers throughout the space.

You can find out more about United’s Polaris lounges on its website here.

Look out later this week for my Polaris business class flight review.

Comments (19)

  • Mikeact says:

    Paid long haul tickets and Reward tickets for access ?

    • Scandinavian traveler says:

      Both are fine. I had access with a reward ticket recently.

      Champagne is readily available in the evenings.

  • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

    Is that a morning flight back from SFO? Seems like it would be a long slog the next day. At least with the afternoon flights you can get a lousy night’s sleep onboard then only have to make it though a half day.

  • Loz says:

    Thank you Rhys – great review. Did you tip your excellent waiter Kevin? This is always a controversial topic for US lounges. The consensus generally seems that there isn’t an expectation of one but interested in your experience.

    • Tariq says:

      Saw an American couple tip the lounge attendant at the IC London yesterday…

    • James C says:

      Under no circumstances tip in a lounge. It is perpetuating the tipping problem in the US. This is complimentary hospitality from an airline. There is no expectation of tipping to replace lower salaries and staff are paid accordingly unlike in other service settings like restaurants or bars. I’ve seen reports of tipping in order to get the premium champagne in the Chelsea Lounge which frankly is vulgar and a situation BA needs to grip.

      I had great service from GGL line this week, they nor the flight deck who got me to my destination safely or the cabin crew or the team in the CCR were tipped this week so it mystifies me why I’d be opening my wallet as a result of someone bring me a free glass of fizz and a main plate in an airport lounge just because it’s on US soil!

      • Mr Benjamin Murphy-Ryan says:

        Whilst I also hate the US tipping culture, bars and restaurants it’s expected and I would encourage. I fly through this lounge fairly frequently and the staff here are great – especially on the bar. A few dollars for some of the best cocktails have had for a while (recommend the espresso martinis) is well worth it.

      • Andrew says:

        @JamesC well said.

    • Novelty-Socks says:

      Never seen the controversy here myself. I generally tip 20-25% in the US but don’t in the lounge. Might do if service was particularly outstanding. If others want to tip, I’m fine with that.

      • Lady London says:

        I work on a dollar a drink. Maybe more if a cocktail but I can’t recall ever ordering one in a US airline lounge.

  • Bernard says:

    United seem to have realised you have to invest money to make money, and avoid giving away what you invested in as freebies.
    Both lessons lost on BA which increasingly feels like it’s repeated the mistakes AA in the 2000s.
    United at SFO is in a different league to the overflowing BA lounge, and tired A380 old club product.
    Competition is a good thing, so a good job Virgin fly the route too as sadly BA seems to have given up trying.

  • Sandy Goodwin says:

    If upgraded I look forward to the Polaris Lounge, and have been to Chicago, Washington, and Houston many times.

    I was in the Chicago lounge on Friday. It was the first to open and doesn’t have a very large restaurant. Oscar Munoz was being interviewed by CNN on my first visit just after it opened.

    Polaris burger is always my go-to option, comes with optional fried egg, onions, and mushrooms – ORD lounge also offered bacon and avocado the other day. Did you look on the reverse side of the menu Rhys, there are always 3 dessert options.

    Champagne is available. By the way, it is also available in the LHR Club lounge.

    Buffet generally looks a lot better later in the day. Normally a good selection of hot and cold options.

    • Bernard says:

      Meanwhile the BA Chicago lounge is ghastly crowded and under invested.
      Fits a pattern.
      United invests, BA just take’s customers for granted.

  • Novelty-Socks says:

    This is a genuinely great lounge, my equal favourite with the Clubhouse in LHR. (Admittedly I haven’t travelled much in business outside the US and UK, so there is much of the world that may offer better!)

    But anyone who remembers the United lounge that occupied this space previously will recognise what a huge leap forward this was when it opened.

    Honestly, I think United’s poor reputation is genuinely undeserved. Curious to see how you found Polaris on the way home.

    (In related news, I still have 300k of United miles to use. Any advice?!)

  • Mr Benjamin Murphy-Ryan says:

    Great lounge – food in the sit down restaurant is decent and recommend if coming in afternoon head straight there to grab a table or join the waiting list.

    The bar is a highlight – great cocktails, attentive service and good choice of drinks. Champagne is available along with a range of decent wines and top shelf spirits.

    Shower suites are great too – never had to queue.

  • Liz says:

    We flew back from Vancouver yesterday – could only get PE seats as someone had already snaffled the business class ones so I used our Dragonpass lounge passes to get in the Plaza Premium lounge in T5 – haven’t been in there for several years – gee it was dire. The seats were really worn and dirty and the food choice didn’t look great either – had a bowl of veggie soup which wasn’t great. Glad I didn’t pay hard cash like some. It was so busy it was standing room only at some points even for people who had pre-booked.

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